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Cullman Center Institute for Teachers Past Programs


The Cullman Center Institute for Teachers offers two distinct programs for professional development that give teachers an opportunity to enrich their understanding of history and literature and to learn about doing research in one of the world's great libraries. The Institute is located in The New York Public Library's landmark building on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street. Listed below are some of our past seminars.

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Flaws in the Texture of Life Feeling, Imagery, and Weirdness in the Short Story with Mary Gaitskill  Image Flaws in the Texture of Life Feeling, Imagery, and Weirdness in the Short Story with Mary Gaitskill

Flaws in the Texture of Life Feeling, Imagery, and Weirdness in the Short Story with Mary Gaitskill

Tuesday, November 8, 2011, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Mary Gaitskill, one of America’s master short story writers, leads a seminar on four brilliant stories: The 5:48 by John Cheever; Vandals by Alice Munro; Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor; and The End of FIRPO in the World by George Saunders. The class will discuss each work's apparent theme, style, and representation of character, and will pay special attention to the ways writers use words to create non-verbal experience through which readers sense the hidden and irrational 

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Weird Love Stories: A Creative Writing Workshop  Image Weird Love Stories: A Creative Writing Workshop

Weird Love Stories: A Creative Writing Workshop

Tuesday, February 14, 2012, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

CHRIS ADRIAN, Instructor

This workshop will examine the unconventional language used in a number of stories, including short fiction by Donald Barthelme and Judy Budnitz, to create a drama of romantic attachment that resists and overcomes cliché. Participants will also engage in a writing exercise that incorporates some of these elements to produce an affecting piece of writing about love. 

Chris Adrian is the author of three novels – The Great Night, Gob's Grief, and The Children's Hospital –  and a collection of 

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LeRoi Jones and the Lower East Side, 1955-1965 (winter break) Image LeRoi Jones and the Lower East Side, 1955-1965 (winter break)

LeRoi Jones and the Lower East Side, 1955-1965 (winter break)

Friday, February 24, 2012, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

ADAM SHATZ, Instructor

As a prominent poet, critic, essayist, playwright, and editor, LeRoi Jones (later known as Amiri Baraka), bridged the worlds of the Beats, the New York School, and avant-garde jazz, and did more than anyone to define the new black aesthetic. Readings will include several essays and poems as well as Jones’s short play, Dutchman. Seminar participants will also listen to samples of music by jazz artists who were close to Jones, and look at paintings by Bob Thompson, who documented that world 

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Gatsby's Inglorious World  Image Gatsby's Inglorious World

Gatsby's Inglorious World

Tuesday, March 6, 2012, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

SHAMUS KHAN, Instructor

Relevant for history as well as English teachers, this seminar will focus on the social world portrayed in The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald set his novel at the end of the Gilded Age, a time of staggering new wealth, staunchly-held prejudices, deep underlying inequalities, and a heady sense of promise. Will the bubble of the 1920s collapse? Will anything ultimately change?

The author of Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School, Shamus Khan teaches sociology at

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The Autobiography of Malcolm X  Image The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Wednesday, March 14, 2012, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.


The Autobiography of Malcolm X has surprisingly wide appeal as a coming-of-age story, perhaps because of its message of spiritual growth and intellectual change. But Malcolm X also became an icon of militant defiance. How can his book represent such a contradictory legacy? What about this controversial tale continues to fascinate? What would young women find in it? Does it carry the same message for black youth as for white?

An essayist and novelist, Darryl Pinckney is the author of the novel High Cotton and Out 

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Being Discovered: Native Americans and Henry Hudson Image Being Discovered: Native Americans and Henry Hudson

Being Discovered: Native Americans and Henry Hudson

Tuesday, March 27, 2012, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

EVAN HAEFELI, Instructor

Using the famous case of Henry Hudson’s ‘discovery of New York,’ the seminar will reflect on this crucial moment in American history. We will use primary and secondary sources, both European and indigenous, to build perspectives on this foundational experience and illustrate how interpretations of the past belong to our present.

Evan Haefeli teaches history at Columbia

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Text and Image Workshop (spring break) Image Text and Image Workshop (spring break)

Text and Image Workshop (spring break)

Friday, April 6, 2012, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

BEN KATCHOR, Instructor

Through a series of writing and drawing exercises, we will explore the possibilities of expression that arise when text and image are combined on the page. Participants will discover and amplify, through their writing, the stories suggested by their drawings, and analyze, through their drawing, the descriptive passages in their written texts. No previous drawing experience is necessary, but everyone will be asked to make the attempt.

Ben Katchor’s latest graphic novel is The Cardboard Valise. The 

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Black Bohemia: Poetry, Painting and Jazz on the Lower East Side, 1955-1965 Image Black Bohemia: Poetry, Painting and Jazz on the Lower East Side, 1955-1965

Black Bohemia: Poetry, Painting and Jazz on the Lower East Side, 1955-1965

Monday, July 16, 2012, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.


ADAM SHATZ, Instructor

From the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, New York below 14th Street was home to a thriving -- and increasingly politicized -- black bohemian scene. Black writers, painters, and jazz musicians moved downtown in search of cheaper rents and a more tolerant racial atmosphere, and were soon mixing with their white counterparts in bookshops, taverns, and jazz clubs. By 1965, the scene had imploded, with the assassination of Malcolm X and the rise of black nationalism. 

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Writing Food: A Writing Workshop in Creative Non-Fiction Image Writing Food: A Writing Workshop in Creative Non-Fiction

Writing Food: A Writing Workshop in Creative Non-Fiction

Monday, July 23, 2012, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.



A wide range of literary genres is open to writers who are deeply curious about food and who find it a peerless– in fact, irresistible – window onto history, experience, and character. This seminar will be held in conjunction with “Lunch Hour: NYC,” a major exhibition of food-related items from the Library’s collections, and will examine the work of such influential culinary storytellers as MFK Fisher, Anthony Bourdain, and Laurie 

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Liberating Constraints: A Creative Writing Workshop Image Liberating Constraints: A Creative Writing Workshop

Liberating Constraints: A Creative Writing Workshop

Monday, July 30, 2012, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.



Shakespeare wrote soliloquies in iambic pentameter; Freud composed some of the 20th century’s best writing in the form of medical case histories; Elvis turned gospel into rock ’n roll; and Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham on a bet that he could write a book using just fifty different words. A narrow passage allows the wind to whistle-- at least sometimes! We’ll read texts by Kobo Abe, Roberto Bolaño, Anthony Burgess, and others, 

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The Writer and the Editor

Monday, February 11, 2013, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.


This seminar, of interest to economics, social studies, and English teachers, presents a case study of the editing of a feature article in The New York Times Magazine. Before the seminar, participants will read both the first draft and the final version of the article, a profile by Stephen Mihm about the economist, Nouriel Roubini. During the morning seminar, the group will discuss why the piece was assigned, what the reporting challenges were, and how the writer and editor worked 

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Camels, Rhinos, and Armadillos: Picturing the World in the Age of Discoveries

Wednesday, February 27, 2013, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.


How did Europeans make sense of the expanding globe in the Age of Discoveries? This seminar explores the impact of the printing revolution on Europeans’ perceptions of America, Africa, and Asia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We will examine how, in the absence of first-hand evidence, Europeans attempted to make sense of the contradictory accounts of travelers. And we will look at early maps, broadsheets, paintings, and printed texts to see how a highly stereotypical 

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Anatomy of a Film: The Battle of Algiers

Thursday, March 7, 2013, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

 SHIMON DOTAN, Instructor

This seminar, helpful for global history teachers as well as any teacher who uses film in the classroom, looks closely at one of the most influential political films in history. The Battle of Algiers (1966), by Gillo Pontecorvo, recreates the Algerian struggle for independence from the French in the 1950s. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range, women plant bombs in cafés, and French soldiers resort to torture to break the will of the insurgents. The film is a case study in 

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Drawing for Beginners

Monday, March 25, 2013, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

This seminar is during spring break

GARY PANTER, Instructor

Starting a sketchbook can seem intimidating. This workshop will address the activity of regularly drawing in a sketchbook. People at any skill level will benefit from this workshop, but it is aimed at those who don’t draw but would like to. Participants will do easy, satisfying exercises designed for the beginner. Bring in a favorite poem or two — at the end of the workshop you’ll draw illustrations for the poems.

Gary Panter is a painter, 

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Memoir: Turning Your Life into a Story

Friday, March 29, 2013, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

This seminar is during spring break


How exactly do you take those raw, unwieldy—often embarrassing—personal experiences (also known as your life) and fashion a compelling narrative? By studying the various strategies that established writers such as Tobias Wolff and A. M. Homes have employed in writing memoir, we will explore the genre in relation to traditional storytelling—character, plot, arc, and resolution. And we’ll ask the essential question: does 

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Drawing 101

Monday, July 15, 2013, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.


GARY PANTER, Instructor

This class is designed for beginners, but artists at any skill level are welcome to apply. Our primary focus will be on learning how to draw in a sketchbook. Through simple exercises, we will break down the barrier separating non-drawers from drawers. Each day's draughting will be supplemented with lectures on a variety of topics, such as the history of comics and drawing; 

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Political Cinema and the “Other”

Monday, July 22, 2013, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.


SHIMON DOTAN, Instructor

Representations of the “other” are central to identity. In times of political conflict, our constructs of the “other” become rallying cries. This seminar is designed for teachers interested in contemporary politics, history, filmmaking, and film criticism. We will ask: How do filmmakers fight against or reinforce prevailing representations of an enemy? We will also investigate how the “other” is Read More ›

Inventing Your Voice: A Creative Writing Workshop

Monday, July 29, 2013, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.


JOHN WRAY, Instructor

'Finding your voice' is one of the most daunting challenges confronting any aspiring writer, largely because 'voice' is not so much found as invented. A distinctive, articulate, seductive voice is essential to fiction and non-fiction alike, but each novel or short story or essay has a specific voice—or group of voices—that suit and serve it best. Over the course of our week, we'll dip into the works of some of the great virtuosi of voice, such as Virginia Read More ›

Slow Looking: A Nonfiction Writing Workshop with Graciela Mochkofsky

Monday, July 14, 2014, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
In this workshop, participants will exercise their observational skills in order to write descriptive nonfiction. To sharpen our senses, we will study examples of great descriptive writing from authors such as Ryszard Kapuściński, John McPhee, Janet Malcolm, Emmanuel Carrère, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Joseph Mitchell, Gitta Sereny, and Elif Batuman. Participants will go out into New York to do their own observing and recording, and then write descriptions of increasing complexity, starting with a single object, moving on to a person, a situation, and finally a scene with multiple Read More ›

Making the Supernatural Real: A Creative Writing Workshop in Fiction with Téa Obreht

Monday, July 21, 2014, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
In this workshop, we will examine some basic techniques of storytelling. Using a wide range of texts, from folktales to Flannery O’Connor, Poe to Kelly Link, Gabriel García Márquez to Karen Russell, we will explore how the bizarre, the mythical, and the supernatural work in a fictional narrative. Daily writing exercises will help each participant compose a short piece of fiction, which will be discussed at the end of the week in a marathon workshop.Read More ›

Made in America: Viewing our Built Environments as Primary Documents with Elizabeth Blackmar

Monday, July 28, 2014, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
The homes and buildings in which we live and work, the parks and places in which we shop and play, and all the roads and byways in between, tell the story of our past. In this seminar we will treat America’s built environments as primary documents that reveal our social history from the 19th century to the present. Among the questions to be considered: How did the 19th century factory influence the design of contemporary kitchens? What does Central Park tell us about America’s evolving notion of “play?” How is the A train connected to segregation? We will read essays by the great Read More ›

The First Person: A Creative Writing Workshop with Justin Torres

Friday, February 20, 2015, 9 a.m.
In this workshop, we will examine voice and structure in first-person narratives by Donald Barthelme, Stuart Dybek, Carolyn Ferrell, Janet Frame, Amy Hempel, and Grace Paley. We will consider the difference between the often nostalgic and sometimes unreliable “I” voice that narrates events, and the active, embodied “I” who is a character in the story itself. We'll also see how associative thinking and structural fragmentation affect our understanding of voice and character. Participants will then attempt to write their own nostalgic, fragmented, wild first person narratives.Read More ›

Two Ways of Looking at Elizabeth Bishop with Megan Marshall and Kenneth Gross

Thursday, February 26, 2015, 9 a.m.
Elizabeth Bishop was a great poet of memory. She mined her childhood experience in prose, wrote poems from a child’s perspective, and, in retrospective narrative verse, established herself as the Wordsworth of her age. In this seminar, the biographer Megan Marshall and the literary critic Kenneth Gross will combine biographical explication and close reading of texts to explore Bishop’s youth—a period of radical dislocation and loss as well as of self-discovery—and the ways in which Bishop transformed her life into poetry. Read More ›

A New Perspective on the Declaration of Independence with Steven Pincus

Tuesday, March 3, 2015, 9 a.m.
Why was it that the outbreak of the American Revolution and the creation of British India were simultaneous events involving many of the same people? What happens if we think about American independence not as the pivotal moment in American history but as part of a global imperial struggle involving not just the British Empire but the Spanish and French Empires as well? This seminar considers the Declaration of Independence and other key historical documents from this imperial perspective. Read More ›

Drop Dead: The Fiscal Crisis of 1975 and the Transformation of New York City with Kim Phillips-Fein

Friday, March 13, 2015, 9 a.m.
In 1975, the largest city in the United States nearly declared bankruptcy. The financial collapse of New York—the home of Wall Street—raised large political questions. Could its economic problems be fixed? Were its generous public services possible in a recession? Was its postwar liberalism tenable? The fiscal crisis led to budget cuts that affected most of the city’s public institutions and set off a wave of protests. Although protesters sometimes successfully shaped how the cuts happened, they couldn’t resist larger changes as the city became increasingly oriented toward private Read More ›
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